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Betty Who talks a lot in interviews about growing up listening to Britney Spears. If you caught even a snippet of her show Friday night (March 16) at Brighton Music Hall, it’d all make sense: The backup dancers in all-white sweatsuits, the glitter, the outsized Betty Who character switching between sexy smirks and smiles.
The thing about Betty Who is that, at first listen, she’s a reincarnation of Cyndi Lauper, a Robyn dupe, yet another bouncy blonde who fosters a fondness for pop and parlays that into a modern sound. And maybe portions of those parallels are valid: Like Robyn, Betty Who receives a lot of love from the LGBTQ+ community (who showed up strong on Friday), and like Lauper, thrives on synth-fueled pop.
But another thing about Betty Who (born Jessica Newham, from Australia, trained at Berklee): She’s unbelievably charming, as evidenced at her sold-out Friday night show, the second of a two-night at-capacity Boston swing that began the night before at the twice-as-large Paradise Rock Club.
On stage, Betty Who refused to slow down from the get-go, kicking off her set with “High Society” (there were many murmurings before the show: “I hope she plays ‘High Society!’”). Two songs later, her most recognizable song, “Human Touch,” flooded the venue—the seductive dance track that repeats, “We don’t have to call it love, we just need a human touch.” The lightheartedness, tinged with a sense of urgency and deep desire, swallowed the audience, spitting us all out dancing furiously.
Betty Who’s act — the backup dancers, the tight choreography — could have deterred the crowd for its weirdness. It’s a small space at Brighton Music Hall, certainly a little stage, but Betty Who filled it with an energy uniquely her own: Lively, anthemic and feminine.
She didn’t need the lights or the choreography to win over the crowd, though; her songs, her gleeful grin, and the whole “heart on my sleeve” persona makes for a magnetic show. Sometimes a great pop performance just means a combination of an enthusiastic audience, a committed performer, and some well-crafted songs.
Five songs into her set, Betty Who revealed her Australian accent with a strangely sweet, “What the fuck is up, Boston?”
From there, Newham’s Britney Spears reflexes kicked in: She asked us, “want to get sexy with me?” and took off her blouse, deciding to perform in a bra from then on out. Thus began the reveal of Betty Who’s sexy side for a few songs, as she flew through the dreamy and sensual stuff from her latest album.
When she decided to slow down, she sang “Beautiful,” with a message of empowerment and soulfulness that contrasts starkly with “Free to Fly” (which she performed while lightly fondling the microphone, singing “Don’t start no shit, there won’t be no shit”). But she uncharacteristically grabbed an acoustic guitar and performed an original she claimed to have penned in Nashville not long beforehand. It was captivating to see her transition so quickly from pop princess to sweet singer-songwriter, even more impressive to watch her next play a stripped down version of “Wanna Be.”
Personally, Newham’s warmth proves versatile. Within seconds, she amped up and jumped around the stage to “Some Kind of Wonderful,” re-electrifying the briefly mellowed crowd. The couple next to me, starting to sweat from dancing, remarked that Betty Who would make a “kick-ass workout video.” They weren’t wrong; the temperature of the venue had become balmy from moving bodies despite the freezing cold outside.
From there, she launched into “Ignore Me,” announcing it’s “one of [her] favorite songs” before the synths kicked in. With the venue heated up and Betty Who’s infectious electricity, she fooled us all into believing we were at a summer festival, experiencing all the same excitement and enchantment, just without the sunburn.